I grew up without pets. It wasn’t because we didn't want them. My dad, a scientist, was not a very touchy feely kind of Mexican dad. The closest interaction he had with animals was on his father’s ranch, but they were kept strictly outside.
Only after our mom and us kids decided to crank up the pressure on dad did we finally end up having two shortived pets. One was Benny, the sky blue parakeet who made his way into my dad's heart. Benny flew freely in the house and often landed on my dad’s bald head. That was it. True love. But then Benny flew out the back door 😂. Then we adopted Negus, a black cat. But after a year dad got tired of her being a constant nuisance (frankly, just normal cat behavior) and took her away.
We grew up essentially petless. It was un caso cerrado. My dad was never going to allow us pets again.
As a little girl, I believed dogs symbolized a certain level of status. They represented a surplus of money and time that you could spend on vets, grooming, and boarding. On top of that, they seemed like a daily chore, having to go outside two to three times a day just to walk them. I was sure I would never be a dog person, but that didn’t rule out my love for other animals.
I went through this pet drought all throughout high school, so by the time I got to college I was desperate to have one of my own. As soon as I stepped onto Barnard’s campus, I decided to break the dorm rules and adopted a jet black kitty I named Che (after ya sabes quien 😉).
He was with me for about 7 years. The last of these years, I was living in Tijuana while working in San Diego. One night, lured by the delicious street food, Che escaped into the streets of Tijuana, never to be seen or heard from again. I know, his escape was a tad dramatic, but so was he.
When German and I got married, he told me that he was pet averse, just like my father. That is, until one day a stray pregnant calico showed up outside our cottage in Connecticut. Her arrival felt like fate because only 24 hours later, I found out I was pregnant with my first born. After two miscarriages, we interpreted the cat’s unexpected arrival as a sign from the universe that my first son would arrive safely.
German was highly moved by the divine timing of it all and became convinced we couldn't turn away this pregnant cat. We kept her and one of her sons and named them Gachica and Pachuco.
Our family would become a “cat family” and we were happy with that. We loved our cats more than anything. And when they both passed away, we eventually adopted two more kittens, Safiya and Miko.
A few years ago, my son came back from college and brought home Walter, a rescue min pin and chihuahua mix. At the time, I still considered myself slightly dog averse and I was allergic to them too. But I had to adapt to a dog living with us.
I told some of my close friends how resistant I was to having a dog in the house, and how I worried about how upsetting and disruptive it would be for our two cats. More than anything, the idea of walking a dog everyday still seemed like my own personal hell. Deepa, one of these friends who was a new doggie mom at the time, told me to try and view the walks as a form of meditation. They could be moments of slowing down and connecting to nature.
Soon enough Walter made his way into my own heart.
Walter began to sleep in my bed once he realized I was usually the first one up, and he could get earlier morning walks. Slowly over the next few years, I became the dog person I never thought I could be. Like the one walking her dog in the early morning under every possible weather condition. I used to look at those people and think “That could never be me.”
Never say never.
In March of 2020, Walter and I had formed a strong bond that was on full display during my bout with Covid. He never left my side.
He helped me to heal in ways I didn't know I needed. Having him by my side helped when I was feeling lonely. When I could finally get out of bed, walking Walter became my recuperation therapy. Every day, I would measure my health progress by seeing how far we could walk together. In fact, Walter and I discovered the north woods of Central Park together, another important factor in my healing. Lost in nature with my doggie in the middle of a massive city.
In the beginning of the citywide shutdown, those moments outside were crucial for my mental health.
It’s been over two years and Walter is still living with us. I have become physically, emotionally and spiritually attached at the hip to this dog. He still sleeps with me and lets me hug him as tight as I want to.
But now, another huge life change is happening.
In a couple months, my son is moving out…and he will be taking Walter with him. So I have made my own major decision. To get my own dog.
And this past weekend…I did.
His name is Pepito Benito Juarez Perez-Hinojosa and he is just 9 weeks old. I didn’t realize that puppies don't sleep through the night. So I am back to being a new mom, up every three hours and operating in zombie mode.
I have little scars all along my arms and my bedroom smells like puppy poop. I am exhausted beyond belief.
And I am enjoying every single second of this new adventure.
Stay tuned here for more stories about Benito’s upcoming adventures 🐕🐕🐕.
Thanks for reading Malu & You, a weekly newsletter where I share my unfiltered and intimate ways of living life on the front lines as a journalist, mom, and compañera.